Travel is practically inevitable during the holiday season. On average, over 90 million travelers will take to the road over the coming weeks to visit their loved ones. Unfortunately, this also exposes them to additional risks that can threaten the security of their identity. These risks can range from hackers stealing information through unreliable vendor systems; copying banking information through phony ATMs; and, sometimes, even physically taking personally identifiable items. If you’re traveling this holiday season, utilize these 7 tips to help you reduce your likelihood of becoming an identity theft or credit fraud victim.
1. Manage Your Mail
Placing a hold on mail delivery is an important thing to do before you leave your home. Scammers are ready to exploit mail that has your personal information, for example, bank statements, credit information, and even medical documents. Additionally, a doorstep with a pile of built-up mail is a clear indicator to criminals that no one is home. In order to avoid your information being stolen, you should place a hold on your mail with the U.S. Postal Service or have a trusted neighbor gather the mail regularly and store it away securely.
2. Barricade Your Boarding Pass
Most air travelers forget that a boarding pass is more than a document that simply grants you access to your flight. They are valuable even after you have boarded the plane, because they contain a barcode on them (such as the one above) that holds delicate personal information. Often times these sheets of paper are hurled about the airport terminal, left on the plane, and sometimes even posted on social media. This means that anyone with access to a QR code scanner (which are effortlessly downloaded to a smartphone) can scan the barcode and have access to all of the personal information associated with your frequent flyer account. Always remember to properly discard your boarding pass after your flight, and, if possible, use a digital boarding pass on your phone.
3. Be Wary of Shared Web Connections
Many of us have seen the warning, “this connection is unsecured and others may see your information” while using public WiFi in hotels, airports, etc. While unsecured network connections should be avoided whenever possible; if you absolutely HAVE to utilize an unsecured network you should be sure to avoid accessing sensitive information such as your bank or work accounts. Some websites will allow you to connect over open, secure networks. To do this you should always ensure the website you are navigating uses “https://” at the beginning of the URL. A secure connection will look like the image above. A final solution is to use a VPN which will allow you to encrypt data on your computer when you are using a public connection.
4. Cut out the Cookies (and Browsing History)
While traveling, the use of public computers may be unavoidable for various reasons. Many PCs are able to store significant information from your web session. Additionally, some websites will automatically keep you signed in unless you specifically log out. In order to avoid the next user of the computer having access to your accounts and information, it is best to clear all cookies and browsing history when you are finished using the computer.
5. Secure Your Smartphone
Smartphones have become a staple in many of our everyday lives. Often times, access to someone’s smartphone can mean access to their bank accounts, social media, work data, and more. It is imperative while traveling to make sure your phone is secure in case it is lost or stolen. You can make your cell phone more secure by setting an unlock password, deleting and/or restricting access to apps with personal information (bank accounts, etc.), and installing software that enables you to locate a lost phone and remotely erase data, if needed.
6. Forgo Phony ATMs
ATMs that are not directly associated with or located within a bank location can be much less secure than those that are. Often times hackers install card readers into ATMs that aren’t heavily monitored to duplicate your card information and PIN number. There are even online marketplaces where fraudsters can purchase ATMs and place them wherever they please. In order to avoid this, it is best to only use ATMs if you are 100% sure that its directly associated with an official bank, even if it means paying a small access fee.
7. Follow Up After Your Trip
Upon returning home from your travels it is imperative that you continue to check your banking and credit card statements for any unfamiliar or fraudulent activities. Hackers can be very patient, so even if everything looks up to par at first, you should continue to monitor your account activity for several weeks after your return.